Air Canada apologizes after headdress of First Nations chief removed to hold

Air Canada apologizes after headdress of First Nations chief removed to hold

Canada’s largest airline has apologized to a prominent First Nations chief after her ceremonial headdress was removed from the plane’s cabin, wrapped in a plastic bag and moved to the baggage hold.

Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, national chief of the assembly of First Nations, was flying domestically on Wednesday when she said her headdress was taken by airline staff.

“Air Canada needs a protocol for First Peoples so that we are not harassed for our sacred items,” she wrote on Facebook, posting images of staff removing the headdress from the cabin of the plane. “Our headdresses don’t belong in garbage bags by airlines,” she added. “Thank you to the kind Canadians on the plane who stuck up for me and tried to help.”

Air Canada said in a statement it had reached out to Woodhouse Nepinak to “better understand and apologize” for the incident, adding that the company “understands the importance of accommodating customers with items and symbols of sacred cultural significance”.

Woodhouse Nepinak, who previous served as regional chief of Manitoba’s Assembly of First Nations, received the headdress during a ceremony by the Blackfoot Confederacy of the Piikani Nation in Alberta.

It was transferred to her in recognition of her national leadership and work on a settlement on Indigenous child welfare, the Assembly of First Nations said in a statement. The AFN added that the eagle feathers that make up her headdress have been “blessed to help support leadership in their travels and challenges”.

Politicians swiftly condemned Air Canada’s actions, with Canada’s former justice minister David Lametti calling the incident “shameful” and “ridiculous”.

“It can’t simply be placed in checked luggage,” he said in statement.

“I have been on numerous flights where larger pieces of ordinary luggage were placed safely in the cabin. Their refusal in this case is simply shocking.”

Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation described the incident as “shameful” and called on the country’s flagship carrier to “ensure all members of your team are aware and follow all protocols on handling sacred items”.